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Energy Target for 2050: Get 80% of NJ’s Electricity from Renewable Sources

Ambitious Assembly bill seen as laying groundwork for future legislators, different governor

Senator Bob Smith
State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex)

An identical bill is stalled in the Senate, but an assemblyman has introduced a measure to require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy, such as solar and wind, by 2050.

Neither advocates nor opponents of the proposal think the legislation (A-4224) will take effect anytime soon, but supporters hope it will lay the groundwork for possible approval in future sessions of the Legislature, and by a new Governor.

It will not be without a lot of controversy.

The proposal is backed by a broad coalition of clean-energy advocates and environmentalists, who say the state needs to shift its reliance on fossil fuels to less-polluting sources of energy to deal to with climate change. Others, however, say the state cannot afford the costs of meeting the aggressive renewable energy targets --given that New Jersey already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation.

New Jersey, like other states, has adopted so-called renewable energy portfolio standards, which require an increasing share of the electricity used by residents and businesses to come from such sources as solar and wind. By 2020, 22.5 percent of the electricity should come from renewable energy, according to the state’s .

“By strengthening New Jersey’s renewable portfolio standards over the next few decades, the legislation will help deter climate change and draw in more companies eager to create green jobs,’’ said Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), the sponsor of the measure in a press release. Eustace did not respond to calls for comments.

Lyle Rawlings, president of Advanced Solar Products and a leader of a coalition proposing to boost renewable-energy portfolio standards, welcomed the introduction of the bill.

“The more support for it the better,’’ Rawlings said, who had not known of the introduction of the bill. “Legislatively, I think it’s a good chance. Getting it through this governor, we’re not as confident.’’

An identical bill came up in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee last October, but has yet to move forward.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the sponsor of the measure and chairman of the panel, said he is hoping to push the legislation forward by approving other measures that would make it easier for towns to implement solar projects and energy-efficiency programs.

“It’s very difficult because energy markets are changing every minute,’’ Smith said.

Others acknowledged the difficulties.

“This is major legislation,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director of New Jersey Clean Water Action. “These kind of environmental bills take more than one session to get passed.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, argued that the 80 percent target is the best way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the state and meet aggressive goals to curb their pollution. “For us, it is a top priority,’’ he said.

But others question whether New Jersey can ever meet those goals.

“We’re heading to achieve about 5 percent of renewable energy by 2020,’’ said Fred DeSanti, an energy lobbyist. Referring to the 80 percent goal, he said “there’s no way we can do it. We just can’t afford it.’’

Part of the state’s Energy Master Plan calls for 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind farms to be developed along the Jersey coast by that date. So far, not a single project has been approved by the state, making it highly unlikely that target will be met.

“I just don’t know where we are going with offshore wind,’’ DeSanti said.

That comment reflects the views of some legislators who have pushed to develop offshore wind farms, but have been frustrated with the Christie’s administration’s failure to adopt regulations to make it happen.

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